How to Clean Shoes, Including Canvas, Leather, Suede, and More

These simple tricks and household ingredients will make dirty shoes look (and smell) like new.

As soon as you step outside, your new pair of shoes gather dirt, scuffs, stains, and odors. The only way to keep your kicks pristine is to never wear them at all, but regular upkeep and the right cleaning techniques can keep them looking and smelling fresh for longer.

The best way to clean shoes varies depending on the material. Most footwear can be cleaned using a solution of mild dish soap and water, but certain types of shoes, including mesh sneakers and suede shoes, require special care to avoid damaging the material. We'll walk you through how to use simple household items, such as baking soda, distilled white vinegar, and a toothbrush, to remove grime and discoloration from your footwear.

cleaning pink shoe with microfiber cloth
Umida Kamalova / Getty Images

How to Clean Shoes

Before you begin cleaning shoes of any material, it's a good idea to insert shoe trees ($8, Walmart) or stuff the interiors with newspaper to help the shoes maintain their shape and create a barrier against any moisture that seeps through while cleaning. In general, you should never clean shoes in the washing machine, as prolonged soaking and agitation can loosen the glue that binds them together or cause other damage. If your shoes are heavily stained or made of a delicate material, you might never be able to completely restore that fresh-from-the-box look. But the steps below should help you get them cleaner.

How to Clean Canvas Shoes

What You Need

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Melamine sponge
  • Clean cloth
  • Bleach (optional)

Step 1: Remove Laces and Brush Away Dirt

To clean canvas shoes, start by removing the laces and brushing away any excess dirt using a dry toothbrush or soft-bristled brush.

Step 2: Wash, Soak, and Scrub

Wash the shoes by hand using a small amount of liquid laundry detergent mixed with water. Pre-treat stains by applying detergent directly to the spot and allowing it to sit for at least 15 minutes. Clean the entire shoe by scrubbing with a sponge or cloth dipped in the detergent solution.

Step 3: Remove Scuff Marks and Let Dry

Use a melamine sponge ($3, Target) to remove scuff marks from the sole. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the exterior of the shoes and blot away soapy residue, then let the shoes dry completely.

Step 4: Clean the Laces

Soak the laces in your detergent solution or in a diluted bleach solution; rinse and let dry before re-lacing.

How to Clean Leather Shoes

Leather and faux leather shoes can stain easily and are prone to damage if you scrub too hard.

What You Need

  • Liquid soap
  • Soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Melamine sponge
  • Leather soap (optional)

Step 1: Scrub Shoes with Cleaning Solution

For the best way to clean leather shoes, mix a few drops of liquid dish soap into a cup of warm water. Dip a soft-bristled toothbrush into the mixture and gently scrub the shoes.

Step 2: Tackle Tough Scuffs

For scuffs that won't budge, gently scrub with a melamine sponge or use a soap specially designed for leather ($5, Walmart).

How to Clean Suede Shoes

What You Need

  • Suede brush
  • Toothbrush (optional)
  • Clean block eraser
  • Microfiber cloth
  • White vinegar

Step 1: Wait for Wet Suede to Dry

The trick to cleaning suede shoes is to avoid using water, which can cause discoloration or damage the velvety texture. Always wait until the material is completely dry, then brush away loose dirt using a suede brush or toothbrush.

Step 2: Buff and Remove Spots

Use a clean block eraser to buff out small scuffs and marks. For larger spots, use a microfiber cloth dipped in white vinegar to gently lift out the stain.

Step 3: Air-Dry and Brush

Allow the shoes to air-dry away from direct heat or sunlight, then brush the surface again to restore its original texture.

How to Clean Tennis Shoes

Athletic shoes are often made of mesh or knit fabrics that can be easily snagged or damaged by harsh scrubbing, so take care to use a soft touch while cleaning.

What You Need

  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Liquid laundry detergent
  • Clean cloth

Step 1: Soak the Laces

Remove the laces and carefully brush off excess dirt with a soft-bristled brush. While you clean the rest of the shoe, soak the laces in a small amount of liquid laundry detergent mixed with warm water.

Step 2: Clean the Fabric and Insoles

Apply the same detergent solution to the shoes with a soft cloth and work it into the fabric using gentle circular motions. If needed, remove the insoles and scrub those as well. Remove soapy residue from the insoles and exterior by wiping with a clean damp cloth, rinsing out the cloth as often as needed.

Step 3: Let Shoes and Laces Dry

Remove the laces from the detergent solution and run under warm water. Let all components dry before adding the laces.

cleaning white shoes with baking soda
Jacob Fox

How to Clean White Shoes

White shoes are especially prone to stains and scuffs, so you might need some extra cleaning power for this type of shoe.

What You Need

  • Baking soda
  • Damp cloth
  • Bleach pen

Step 1: Clean as Directed for Material

Start by following the cleaning instructions for the shoe's material.

Step 2: Remove Stubborn Grime and Stains

If stains or grime remain, try mixing baking soda with enough water to form a thick paste, apply it to the shoe, gently scrub, and let dry. Brush off as much residue as possible, then wipe with a damp cloth.

For white shoes made of canvas or mesh, use a bleach pen to spot-treat stubborn stains.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles